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How To Change Your Child’s Behavior Without Punishment!

To punish or not to punish?

Whenever that question comes up in family coaching sessions, I usually ask, “Why do we punish?”

Here are some of the answers parents have given:

“If you don’t punish them, kids will try to get away with murder.”

“Sometimes I get so frustrated, I don’t know what else to do.”

“How will my child learn what he did was wrong and not do it again if I don’t punish him?”

“I punish my son because it’s the only thing he understands.”

When I asked parents to remember their own feelings when they were punished, I got the following responses:


“I used to hate my mother. Then I’d feel guilty.”

“I used to dream that I’d get sick and then my parents would be sorry for what they did to me.”

“I used to think my parents were right. I am bad. I deserve to be punished.”


The more parents shared their experiences about being punished, the more they realized that punishment could lead to feelings of hatred, revenge, defiance, guilt, and self-pity.

So…at what point is it all right to punish a child who ignores or defies you? Shouldn’t there be consequences for a child how misbehaves?

A child should experience the consequences for his misbehavior, but not punishment.


In a caring relationship there is no room for punishment.

The next question parents would ask is something like this, “Suppose my child continues to disobey me? Isn’t it all right to punish then?”

The problem with punishment is this:

It doesn’t work. Punishment is a distraction. Instead of the child feeling sorry for what he has done and thinking about he can make amends, he becomes preoccupied with revengeable thoughts.

In other words, by punishing a child we actually deprive him of the important inner process of facing his own misbehavior.

Well…what could parents do instead?

  1. Point Out A Way To Be Helpful.  

Instead of, “Oooh!!! You’re going to get it when your father gets home!”

Try this; “It would be helpful if you picked out three big apples for us.”

2. Express Strong Disapproval

Instead of, “You’re acting like a wild animal. No iPad for you tonight!”

Try this; “I don’t like what’s going on. It’s disturbing to other shoppers when children run in the aisles.”

3.  Offer a Choice

Instead of, “If I catch you running again in this store, you’ll get a smack!”

Try this; “Johnny, no running. Here are your choices. You can walk or you can sit in the cart. You decide.”

4. Take Action.

Instead of, “You asked for it!”

Try this; “I see you decided to sit in the cart. Thank you for making a good choice.”

5. State Your Expectations.

Instead of, “What an idiot! You left my tools out in the rain! What were you thinking?”

Try this; “I’m furious you left my tools outside to rust in the rain. I expect when you borrow my tools to fix your car they need to be returned promptly and in good condition.”

6. Show How To Make Amends.

Instead of, “I work hard to buy tools and now you have ruined them.

Try this; “What my tools now need is a steel wool and a lot of work to remove the rust. And a light coat of oil when you’re finished to protect them in the future.”

Suppose the child continues borrowing and forgetting?

Offer a choice.

“You can borrow my tools and return them. You can give up the privilege of using them. You decide.”

And if he still continues….

Take action.

“Dad, your tool box is locked.

“That’s right. For the time being I need to know my tools are exactly where I left them.”

Let’s take this a step further.

Suppose you really have tried everything, and the problem goes on and on? What can you do when there seems to be nothing left but to punish?

When a problem persists, we can usually presume it is more complex that it originally appeared. For a complex problem, a more complex skill is needed.

Parent educators and family counselors have worked out some excellent detailed strategies for resolving difficult conflicts.

Here’s the version I present at Family Coaching Workshops:


  1. Talk about the child’s feelings and needs.
  2. Talk about your feelings and needs.
  3. Together, brainstorm to find a mutually agreeable solution.
  4. Write down all ideas – without judging or evaluating.
  5. Decide which suggestions you like, which you don’t like, and which you plan to follow through on.


This story shows how a young boy struggling with the problem of how to deal with his own anger.

Johnny (nine years old) has trouble getting out his feelings of anger. This particular evening, something set him off and he threw down his chair and stormed away from the dinner table with his fists clenched, not knowing an acceptable way to get rid of his anger.

Sound familiar?

On his way to his room, he accidently knocks down one of his mother’s favorite vases. As she saw it smash and break on the ceramic tile floor, she became furious. Johnny ran into his room and slammed the door. Hard.

After Johnny’s mom managed to glue the vase together and had time to ease her angry feelings, she went to Johnny’s room and knocked on the door.


“I would like to come in and sit down and talk.”

Johnny looked at his mom with gratitude and said, “Yes.”

It was as if was reassured merely by his mom’s presence that she still loved him and thought of him as a human being, not as a clumsy, uncontrolled kid.

“How do you feel when you get so angry, Johnny?”

“I want to punch someone or break something, slam things as hard as I can.”

“When you show your anger that way I want to go into your room and take your favorite toy and tear it apart.”

Johnny looked at mom.

Mom looked at Johnny.

In unison, “hmmm.”

Johnny’s mom (with paper and pencil in hand) asked Johnny if together they could work out some way of showing or releasing anger that they could both live with.

Dad could hang up Johnny’s punching bag.

Turn on music as loud as it goes.

Go outside and run around the house ten times.

Slam doors.

Breathe through your nose.

Jump hard on the floor.

Rip up paper.

Warrior One yoga pose.

As Johnny and his mom went back over the list, they settled on four possibilities and why they would work.

At the end of their conversation, Johnny and his mom were sitting closely and touching and talking calmly.

Finally mom said, “there’s only thing I’d like to add, and it’s something that’s always available to you when you feel so full of anger.”

“I can talk about it.”

Johnny and his mom went to bed feeling really good.


Loretta Holmes, MA CMHWC is the founder of Bella ADHD & Family Coaching. Discover more about Bella ADHD & Family Coaching and coaching packages offered at








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